So many Tomatoes!

We have hit that time of the summer when everybody is trying to get rid of extra produce.  This year has been especially good for growing things with all the rain and until recently fairly cool temperatures.  You can pick up fresh, tasty tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and eggplant in your local store or at the Farmers Market at great prices.

A Mother of a Sauce

I love fresh tomatoes right off the vine but this year I’m cooking with them a lot more.  I’ve also got a pretty good crop of tomatoes growing in the back yard.  I’m also going to make some homemade marinara sauce and can it.  You can do so much with a basic marinara which is why it is considered a one of the five Mother Sauces in French cooking. 

With a basic mother sauce, you can create all kinds of interesting dishes.  I like to use marinara to make Vodka sauce or cream of tomato soup.  Today, I’m going to prepare some delicious and healthy Eggplant parmesan using my homemade marinara.  So you are getting a two-fer.

Make it low and slow

A good sauce takes time, so don’t think you are going to whip this out in 30 minutes.  Typically my marinara requires about 2 hours from start to finish.  You can make this ahead and then use it days later to prepare your final dish.  Scale up the recipe and make enough marinara for the winter.

Marinara Sauce (makes about 6 cups)

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot chopped
  • 64 oz of fresh tomatoes diced with juices
  • 4 to 6 basil leaves, chopped fine
  • 2 dry bay leaves
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)

In a large stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent about 2 minutes.  Add the celery and carrot and season with salt and pepper.  Sauté until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 to 8 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, basil, and bay leaves and reduce the heat to low.  Cover and simmer for at least 1 hour or until thick.  Remove the bay leaves and taste for seasoning.  If sauce is too acidic, add unsalted butter, 1 TBSP at a time, to round out the flavor.

Process the sauce with a food processor, blender or immersion mixer until smooth.  You may have to do this in batches.  If not using the sauce right away, allow to cool completely and store in refrigerator for a few days or move to freezer bags and freeze for up to 6 months. 

You can also substitute a bit of vanilla to replace the butter if the sauce is too acidic.  Cooking times will vary depending on how fine you chop the vegetables but allow simmering for at least an hour.  If you don’t want tomato skins in your sauce, the tomatoes can be blanched or oven roasted while still whole to make for easier peeling.

Eggplant Parmesan

  • 3 or 4 cups of marinara sauce
  • 2 cups of dried bread crumbs
  • ½ TBSP garlic powder
  • ½ TBSP dried oregano
  • 3 Eggs beaten
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 LBS Eggplant peeled and cut into ½ inch thick segments
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Mozzarella or Italian blend of cheese
  • Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 F.

In a shallow bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, garlic, and oregano.  Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium high heat.  Dredge the eggplant in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumb mixture.  Place the coated eggplant in the pan and cook until golden brown.  Cook as much eggplant at one time as you can fit into a single layer in you pan.  Allow to drain on a paper towel.

 Cover the bottom of a baking dish with about 1 cup of the marinara sauce.  Place cooked eggplant on top of the marinara sauce.  Cover the eggplant with the remaining sauce.  Top with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.  Place the dish in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until the sauce is heated and the cheese melted.  Broil to brown if you like.  Makes 3 or 4 servings.

 Serve with some nice bread and possibly a green salad. Pair with a Zinfandel or a dry Italian wine.

You can also make this meal a bit heartier by adding browned ground beef to your marinara essentially making it a Bolognese sauce.